So the only way I can think of to tell the story of my second baby’s birth is to first talk about the birth of my wonderful daughter almost three years earlier. It was exactly 2:00 am on my due date and my husband had just fallen asleep after working a 12-hour shift when my water broke in a huge gush all over the floor. I woke my husband, took a shower and had planned on going back to bed. My exhausted husband and his frayed nerves, however, had other plans. So I did what he asked and called my OB. That was the beginning of the end of me having any control over my birth and my body. I got into bed and somehow, even though I was giddy with excitement, fell asleep. I don’t remember how many times my OB called and woke me up but I do remember asking her to stop calling. My contractions were barely noticeable and I really wanted to get some rest while I could. Finally, at 8:00 am she really got pushy and convinced me to go to the hospital even though I was barely feeling anything.
We got there at 9:00 and Pitocin was started, against my wishes, at 9:30. I was made to lie on my back connected to the IV and strapped to the external fetal monitor. If I needed to use the bathroom I had to call a nurse and have her unhook me from all the machines and once I got there I wasn’t able to close the door because the IV pole couldn’t fit in the bathroom. At one point she got so frustrated with me that she forced me to use a bedpan to urinate. It was totally demoralizing. The contractions were EXCRUTIATING. I had told the nurse that I didn’t want any pain medication and she laughed at me and said it was impossible and I would end up with an epidural like everyone else. She was right.
At 3:00 pm I thought I would die if I didn’t get some pain relief. So at 3:30 pm without anyone ever checking my dilation I was given an epidural. Five minutes later my cervix was checked and I was eight and a half centimeters and began pushing less than an hour later. I felt absolutely nothing. I never had an urge to push and in all honesty I have no idea how I was able to get my daughter out. I kept asking if I was pushing because I was so numb. I was ecstatic when I heard that she was a girl and they let me touch her for a quick moment.
They quickly took her away and let her scream on a warming tray about two feet away from me for an hour while the OB stitched up the episiotomy that I had refused and received anyway. My baby had been poked and prodded and blinded by the antibiotics they put in her little eyes and all I could do was lay there and let it happen. I completely shut down. My husband asked if he could pick her up and comfort her and the nurse told him that he couldn’t because the mother had to hold the baby first. How does that make any sense? When my gorgeous little girl finally came to me she was all bundled up and all I could see was her face. I only had her for a few minutes to nurse her before the nurses whisked her away to be bathed. I was only able to see her whole body and examine my special little angel approximately five hours after her birth when the hospital staff finally left us alone. I knew very soon after this traumatic experience that I would rather give birth in a dirty garage by myself than to ever set foot in a hospital to have a baby again.
Three years later I was expecting again and this time I was going to do it better and on my own terms. I was going to have this baby at home where I was in charge. I was ten days past my due date on that sunny and unbelievably hot September morning and I knew this was the day. I was having very mild but consistent contractions. My midwife, Valeriana, called just to check on me and I told her what was going on. She told me that she and her assistant Venus would come spend the day with us and help me to get things rolling. We all went for a walk to visit my friend a few blocks away and when we returned my mother was at my house just finishing making a big pot of Italian wedding soup (my favorite). We all had lunch and hung out. My contractions were getting stronger and closer together but as long as I stood up and rocked I was okay. It was getting to the point where I really had to concentrate to get through the contractions and Valeriana suggested that I go into the shower and let the water relax me and ease my discomfort. I agreed and was only in there a few minutes when I had the overwhelming feeling that I had to get out of there. I put my shirt back on, opened the bathroom door and saw the best sight I could have ever imagined… my bed! I just climbed right in but had a contraction on my way up so I stayed on my hands and knees.
I labored like this for a few contractions while Venus and my husband took turns rubbing my back and giving me coconut water to drink. I figured I still had a long labor ahead of me because I was expecting the contractions to get painful like they had been with my first daughter. This time my contractions were extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant but I wouldn’t really describe them as painful. I heard Venus quietly say, “Val, she’s pushing”. I told her I wasn’t but quickly realized that she was right. I was just so deep inside of myself and my labor that I just let my body take over.
My wrists were killing me in this position. I remember saying “I just want to take a nap… Can I take a nap?” I’m not sure who suggested it but I tried lying on my side. I had one contraction in that position and it was horrible. It was the first really painful contraction I had had all day. As soon as it was over I asked to be helped up and said, “I need to stand, right now”. I stood and hung onto the side of the bed and my husband’s arm. The pushing contractions were so strong that I felt as if I had no control over them. It was like the feeling of throwing up.
Everything was just contracting and I had no choice, my body just took over. It was extremely intense and a little scary. I was completely unprepared for the intensity and the heaving feeling of the pushing contractions. After pushing for a while (I had no concept of time by this point) my water finally broke and the relief was amazing. On the next contraction I felt my daughter come down. When she was crowning Valeriana told me to reach down and feel her head. I couldn’t believe we were almost there. I had to take it easy and try not to push too hard because we didn’t want the scar from the episiotomy to tear. That was the most difficult part of my labor. Soon enough, though, I felt her head come out and then the warm, slipperiness of the rest of her body.
Valeriana passed her between my legs to my waiting arms and I placed her on the bed right in front of me. I moved the cord to the side and exclaimed, “Thank God”. My husband knew without seeing that that meant she was a girl and announced it to the others. She flailed her little arms to the side and coughed once and began to cry a little. I talked to her and touched her and she calmed down. That’s when I took a minute for myself to kiss my husband and to absorb what I had just accomplished. My husband supported me from behind and looked at our sweet baby over my shoulder while a rested for a few moments.
The baby began to cry and it kind of snapped me back to reality. I looked her over from head to toe amazed at how much she looked like her beautiful big sister and at the same time looked nothing like her at all. I saw her put her little hands up to her face and wiggle her fingers. I immediately knew that that was what she did while she was still in my womb and I had felt like I was being tickled from the inside. When I was ready I lifted her up and held her close. Her smell was intoxicating. It reminded me, immediately, of how my first daughter had smelled for the brief moments I had with her before they took her from me and washed her. I was helped onto my bed. When the baby was ready she was able to crawl to my breast and have her first meal.
It was an amazing way to meet this special little person who I already knew so well. No one ever told me what to do or rushed me in any way. During the pause after her birth I felt like we were the only people in the world. I never would have expected that I would have wanted to do anything but hold my baby immediately following her birth. But I was able to see her and touch her and examine every inch of her without interruption or judgment. In those moments following my daughter’s birth I was able to rejoice in the beauty of it all and I was finally able to let go of the regret and frustration I felt about my first daughter’s birth. Our birth pause was joyful and healing. A friend asked me to describe my experience and I said the only word that came to mind… Respectful.